After putting together their best football season in several years and winning their first state quarterfinals game since 2015, the No. 4 Moriarty Pintos came up short in the Nov. 20 Class 4A state semifinals, falling to the No. 1 Lovington Wildcats 54-12.

The game was a tale of two halves, as the Pintos stayed close with the top-ranked Wildcats in the first half but gave up an early punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter and never got back on track.

“They got that punt return and it all kinda went downhill from there,” Moriarty head coach Gabe Romero said.

Lovington scored two touchdowns in the first quarter, including one on a blocked punt inside the Moriarty 20-yard line that was returned for a score.

The Pintos cut Lovington’s lead in half with a 68-yard scoring drive that started late in the first quarter and carried into the second.

The drive was kept alive with a fourth-down pass from Amare Gonzales to Josh Montoya that got the Pintos to the Lovington 1-yard line. One play later, Gonzales ran it in on a quarterback keeper to make it a 12-6 game.

Lovington responded with a touchdown drive and a 19-6 lead.

The Pintos answered with a seven-play, 61-yard drive that was highlighted by Gonzales’ 40-yard pass to Cayden Dunn that got Moriarty to the Lovington 5-yard line. Kenneth Poyner capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run up the middle behind the blocking of Preston Hatten to cut the deficit to 19-12 with 43 seconds left in the first half.

“They jumped out on us, and I think we finally settled in and started playing and were able to move the ball,” Romero said.

The Pintos got the ball to start the third quarter but went three-and-out, and that’s when Lovington began its parade of 35 unanswered points. Moriarty’s ensuing punt was returned by Lovington’s Tayten Hilliard who weaved through several Moriarty defenders on his way to a 55-yard touchdown.

“The kid made some moves, we had opportunities to get him, and we touched him, but we just didn’t tackle him,” Romero said.

The Pintos turned the ball over on their next possession, setting up another Lovington touchdown drive.

Lovington shut the door by returning another punt for a touchdown to go up 40-12 at the end of the third.

Romero said that Moriarty was hindered by some key players who missed the game due to injury, or got injured during the game.

“They definitely handled us, but if we’re 100-percent healthy, the outcome would’ve been different,” he said.

Romero noted that he has several key seniors who played a big part in this year’s success, but he’s also encouraged by a large crop of players who’ll be returning next season.

“We’ve got a lot of good kids coming back,” Romero said. “And I think next year we can be pretty successful again.”

The Pintos finished 7-3 overall, 3-0 in district.